What’s the time, Mr Wolfy?
Four o’clock ... or is it 4 pm? Or 4.00 p.m.?
This was a game I played when I was young. But I never had to write it down. What if you did? How would you write it?
It can be confusing when deciding how to write times and dates, especially with so many different ways of doing it.
New Zealand English follows the British system for the most part. Here is an outline of the most accepted ways of formatting dates and times in New Zealand English. Whichever way you choose, remember to stay consistent, either within that document or manuscript, or across the entire company’s written material. As always, if your company has a different format in their house style, follow that.
Whether you spell out or use numerals for times depends on the style of the writing or where the reference to time is being used. Either way is correct.
When the time is vague or it doesn’t matter if it is not exact, you can spell out the words. With o’clock, the number is always spelled out.
When the time is specific, numerals are used. There are different ways to write the time in numerals. A colon or full stop is correct (though in New Zealand, a full stop is more common). There is usually a space between the numeral and the am or pm, but not always. As long as it is consistent.
However, in fiction, it is preferable to spell it out in dialogue, even when it is specific.
Twenty-four hour time is shown as:
American English usage has been creeping in, with people writing the month and then the day:
Dates in New Zealand English have the number first, and don't have commas:
A comma is used when the day of the week is added.
If using it in a sentence, there is a second comma after the year.
Do not use -st and -th with a figure when also mentioning the month.
There is no comma in years, unless it is a longer than 4 digits.
For abbreviations use the format date/month/year.
Words or figures can be used for decades.
When speaking of two decades, write both out in full.
When the name of a decade is used to describe a social or cultural period, use words.
It is a style choice whether to spell out or use numerals for centuries. Oxford style is to spell out, but in informal writing, it has become common to use figures for centuries.
To abbreviate centuries in notes, references and tables use c. or cent. with a numeral.
For adjectival use, use a hyphen.
For the BC and AD use small caps (which, to my horror, my website platform can't format), closeup with numbers, but spaced with words or letters, and the c. only refers to the date immediately after it, so needs to be repeated if needed.
When spelled out, the AD should be after the words.
When writing date ranges, use an en dash, not a hyphen.
Dates that cross a century boundary or are specific dates of a person’s birth and death should not be elided.
A range in BC should always be in full to prevent confusion. Again, the BC and AD should be in small caps.
When describing a range, use the from … to … format, the between ... and ... format, or an en dash. Be careful not to blend the three formats.
At the start of a sentence
Just as all numbers should be spelled out at the start of a sentence, so should years. But it's better to rewrite the sentence.
If you have written a book in New Zealand English and this all sounds too overwhelming, I can help.
I am a copy-editor and proofreader based in New Zealand. My business, Clearlingo Editing and Proofreading, caters to all writers business and government content, and non-fiction books. I can discuss with you where your writing is at and what you need to do next.
For more information on how I can help you make your writing shine, please contact me on: www.clearlingo.co.nz/contact.
I would love to hear from you.
Hughes, J., & Wallace, D. (2010). Fit to Print : The Writing & Editing Style Guide for Aotearoa New Zealand. Wellington, New Zealand: Dunmore Publishing.
Chicago Manual of Style
Oxford University Press, (2016). New Oxford Style Manual (3rd ed.). United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
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